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Taraji P. Henson left no topic untouched in her deeply personal memoir.
The Empire star just published her first tell-all, Around the Way Girl, and in it she reflects on the ups and downs of living in the epicenter of Hollywood's limelight.
Throughout the 240-page read, released Oct. 11, Henson offers candid insight into a myriad of topics—including how much she earned (or didn't earn) while acting alongside Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which coveted role she lost to Naomi Wattsand how she convinced Idris Elba to star in No Good Deed.
Check out the seven most shocking revelations from Taraji's take on the entertainment industry below:
1. Henson was preparing to sell her belongings at a garage sale before landing an audition for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Then a relatively up-and-coming star on the scene, Taraji writes she was ready to give up on pursuing her dreams in 2006. "When my manager, Vince, called to tell me the director, David Fincher, wanted to meet, I wasn't really excited by the prospects of sitting in a cattle call of actresses scrapping for the job. Plus, the meeting fell on the day that I was hosting a garage sale at my place, and I was way more hustling to sell my gently worn dresses, stilettos and other personal goodies..." she recalls. As fate would have it, Henson landed her first major breakout role on the spot.
2. She earned a fraction of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's Benjamin Button paychecks: When cast as the adoptive mother of Pitt's character in the 2008 drama, the actress writes that despite being "listed as the third principal actor in the cast," Henson was paid "the equivalent of sofa change compared with what my co-stars received." In it Henson explains she expected to receive a salary "worthy of a solid up-and-coming actress with a decent amount of critical acclaim for her work," but instead was offered a number in the "lowest" of six-figures and had to front her own hotel expenses while filming.
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3. Naomi Watts was offered a part initially written "specifically" for Taraji: In a chapter titled "On Being a Black Woman in Hollywood," Henson discloses a career-stalling incident in which she was forced to forgo her part as a pregnant stripper in 2014's St. Vincent to Watts. "Time and again, I've lost roles because someone with the ability to green-light a film couldn't see black women beyond a very limited purview he or she thought ‘fit' audience expectations," Henson writes. She continues, "It was a meaty gig. I would have loved it. Alas, I couldn't get served at that particular restaurant."
4. Angelina Jolie consoled Taraji after she lost the Academy Award to Penelope Cruz: When the 46-year-old came shy of earning an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actress category during the 2009 telecast, Henson writes that her seatmates, Pitt and Jolie, "reached over to me after my loss, worried that I might be upset... 'I'm fine,' I insisted. 'Can I get some more wine?' 'Let's go get a shot,' Angelina countered. Brad and Angie's support for me during that entire awards season means more to me than they'll ever know."
5. Her "best acting" performance was getting Idris Elba to sign on for No Good Deed: Henson went behind the camera to produce and star in the 2014 crime thriller, a daunting feat proven even trickier when it came to negotiating Elba's stake in the film. Taraji says she went into "Single Mom Hustle mode" to convince Idris, writing that she told him, "'I really need this gig, okay? I got a son back home and that tuition is kicking my ass and I can't afford to miss out on the opportunity. I can't do this without you, literally.'" Her relentless hard work paid off, as the actor couldn't help but say yes.
6. Henson couldn't stand the thought of starring on Empire when she first read the script: Fans of the wildly popular program will be shocked to know Taraji had zero interest in taking her acting chops to the small screen. "'I don't want to do this,'" I said [to my manager.] 'I've done this before: she's street, she's hood. I don't need to do this again.'" Ultimately, Henson saw taking on Cookie as a challenge to get "viewers and critics alike [to] see past her troubles and straight into her heart." Phew!
7. Taraji drew on her own life experience to play Cookie Lyon on Empire: It's no secret Henson commands the Fox series unlike any other actress could, a hit role she writes was only made possible because of her own personal struggles. "I quickly came to embrace Cookie because she is, to some extent, me. I'm that girl with whom everyday woman identifies. I'm that struggle. Hell, I'm the American dream. I didn't go to an Ivy League school, I didn't study at Juilliard, I didn't grow up in a mansion. I came from the goddamn hood and put myself through Howard University... I'm not some fantasy. I'm tangible."
Around the Way Girl is on bookshelves now.